Why this innovator is dedicated to supporting, showcasing Houston energy tech startups

Jason Ethier, who's seen Greentown Labs from its early days to it's impressive impact today, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy

Like many successful operations, Greentown Labs, a climatetech incubator based in Somerville, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, had its humble beginnings.

"Greentown is one of those things where a business seems obvious in retrospect," says Jason Ethier, a serial energy entrepreneur, on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

He says he and a few other founders were working on their various ventures in a building that ended up getting slated for demolition, forcing them to find a new place to set up shop.

"We were all building stuff within energy and technology," Ethier remembers. "We had to find a new building, and the landlord looked at us and said, 'I don't want to deal with a bunch of small companies. I want one company, one check, and one lease."

The group of entrepreneurs formed Greentown as a way to make the rent work, but they started attracting interest from other founders who wanted in. The organization evolved to what it is today — a dual-located energy incubator that's supported over 500 companies that have raised over $4 billion in funding.

Ethier, whose startup at the time brought him to Houston frequently, recognized the same scrappy founder mentality and need for incubation support in the Bayou City and was a key player in expanding Greentown to Houston in 2021.

"Every city is proud of who they are, but I think Houston especially is a city that likes to solve problems and build things locally," Ethier says. "When presented the opportunity to help build and ecosystem here, members of the ecosystem raised their hands and said, 'how can I help.'"

Juliana Garaizar, who was hired as launch director for Houston and now is head of Greentown Houston, tapped Ethier to support the expansion into town. Now, as senior director of membership at Greentown Labs, he works hands on with startups at Greentown.

He's taken his knowledge as a serial entrepreneur and incubation leader to launch the EnergyTech Startups podcast with co-host Lara Cottingham, the vice president of strategy, policy, and climate impact at Greentown Labs.

"As an entrepreneur, sometimes you feel a gap in the market in your bones and you just have to do something about it," Ethier says, explaining that he observed that when meeting people, he realized Houston got a bad rap. "Houston isn't viewed as a cool place to build a company if you don't know how good it is to be here."

The other thing Ethier says he realized was that Houston founders were understated in what they accomplished. So, he set out to start a podcast that would shine the spotlight on a Houston energy entrepreneur on a regular basis. The show, launched last fall, das now introduced listeners to over 20 energy founders and is continuing to do so on a biweekly basis.

Ethier shares more on his views of the future of Houston as an energy transition leader on the show. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Originally expected to raise $150 million, Mercury's latest fund is the largest raised to date. Photo via mercuryfund.com

A Houston venture capital firm has announce big news of its latest fund.

Mercury, founded in 2005 to invest in startups not based in major tech hubs on either coast, closed its latest fund, Mercury Fund V, at an oversubscribed amount of $160 million. Originally expected to raise $150 million, Fund V is the largest fund Mercury has raised to date.

“We are pleased by the substantial support we received for Fund V from both new and existing investors and thank them for placing their confidence in Mercury,” Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury Fund, says in a news release. “Their support is testament to the strength of our team, proven investment strategy, and the compelling opportunities for innovation that exist in cities across America.”

The fund's limited partners include new and existing investors, including endowments at universities, foundations, and family offices. Mercury reports that several of these LPs are based in the central region of the United States where Mercury invests. California law firm Gunderson Dettmer was the fund formation counsel for Mercury.

Fresh closed, Fund V has already made investments in several companies, including:

  • Houston-based RepeatMD, a patient engagement and fintech platform for medical professionals with non-insurance reimbursed services and products
  • Houston and Cheyenne Wyoming-based financial infrastructure tech platform Brassica, which raised its $8 million seed round in April
  • Polco, a Madison, Wisconsin-based polling platform for local governments, school districts, law enforcement, and state agencies
  • Chicago-based MSPbots, a AI-powered process automation platform for small and mid-sized managed service providers

Mercury's investment model is described as "operationally-focused," and the firm works to provide its portfolio companies with the resources needed to grow rapidly and sustainably. Since 2013, the fund has contributed to creating more than $9 billion of enterprise value across its portfolio of over 50 companies.

“Over the past few years there has been a tremendous migration of talent, wealth and know-how to non-coastal venture markets and this surge of economic activity has further accelerated the creation of extraordinary new companies and technology," says Garrou. "As the first venture capital firm to have recognized the attractiveness of these incredible regions a dozen years ago, we are excited to continue sourcing new opportunities to back founders and help these cities continue to grow and thrive.”

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